Monday, April 23, 2007

Abuse investigator quits over lap-dance request

Abuse investigator quits over lap-dance request
By Kathleen Chapman

Palm Beach
Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Palm Beach County child abuse investigator lost his job this week after a mother he was supposed to be helping said he asked her for a private lap dance.

Former Department of Children and Families investigator William Williams was assigned to the family's case Dec. 30 after a report to the state that the children were being neglected.

As part of his investigation, he asked the mother what she did for a living. She told him that she worked as an exotic dancer.

According to the mother, Williams then asked whether she gave private lap dances and whether she would come to his home to dance for him.

When she turned him down, she said, he suggested that maybe he could just pay her to cook and clean his house.

The children's grandmother, who agreed to take in the youngsters and their mother, called DCF on Jan. 11 to ask whether the agency could help with rent and groceries. She also reported Williams' behavior with her daughter.

When questioned about the allegations by the DCF inspector general, Williams submitted a sworn statement admitting that he asked the mother if "she did anything else beside dance, if she work in VIP Room, also if she did anything else in the VIP Room, if she gave private lap dances. ...

"This was an error in judgment on my part," Williams wrote, "and can understand how my questioning could be misconstrued."

He said he asked the questions out of personal curiosity, according to the inspector general's report, and that they did not pertain to his investigation.

The mother said Williams made her "very uncomfortable," the report stated.
Williams, 48, was removed from his cases when supervisors heard about the allegations, DCF spokeswoman Laura Tingo said Friday.

He resigned from his job in DCF's Riviera Beach office Monday after his supervisor told him he would be fired, Tingo said.

Williams was hired by the agency in 2005 to take benefit applications. He had worked as an investigator since June 2006.

The lap dance incident is the latest in a string of embarrassing events at DCF and Palm Beach County's private foster care agencies:

• In September, a Wellington couple, reported to DCF for fighting in front of their children, inadvertently recorded a DCF investigator's rant on their voice mail in which she called the mother a "f——— Jew."

• In April 2006, Palm Beach County DCF worker Alison Cushman lost her job after identifying herself as a Florida child abuse investigator while taking off her clothes on Howard Stern's radio and television show. She already had appeared naked on the show and had been warned by supervisors not to do it again.

• The same month,
The Palm Beach Post published an investigation into Children's Home Society caseworker Linette Pierce. A father on her caseload said in a court hearing that he bought a car from Pierce to help her pay a debt and let her live in his house with her two children and a floppy-eared rabbit. Pierce denied the allegations, but records showed she was evicted from her apartment, failed to report a new address to her employer as required and did sell her car to the man.

This month the inspector general published two substantiated reports of workers for the Children's Home Society foster care agency falsifying their visits to children, bringing to seven the total number of Palm Beach County caseworkers or investigators who lied in their case files since the beginning of 2006.

In one of the two most recent cases, former Children's Home Society caseworker Alcede Pompilus, 31, failed to see three children in state care but recorded the visits, according to the inspector general.

One of the children, a teen on whom he was supposed to check at the agency's Nelle Smith Residence, said she was at a nail appointment and the fair on the day he recorded meeting with her.

A case manager at the home said she had trouble getting in touch with Pompilus, and the girl was left there without a Social Security card or a birth certificate. She told the inspector general that she believed the teen was affected by her caseworker's lack of attention, "which was represented by short visits, no interest in the child, and no case management direction."

The Children's Home Society has a zero-tolerance policy for case falsification and terminated Pompilus, said Judith Warren, who heads the agency in Palm Beach County.

Pompilus could not be reached for comment Friday.

In the second substantiated case published this month, former Children's Home Society caseworker Kathleen Cronin, 40, visited a child at local foster care offices instead of a foster parent's home as required.

The inspector general's report said Cronin declined to be interviewed.

She could not be reached for comment Friday.

Cronin resigned in March, a month after the allegation was brought to her supervisor's attention but before the results of the investigation.

Palm Beach County's seven substantiated cases of caseworkers or investigators falsifying cases - a disproportionate share of the 33 statewide - are tied for the most of any DCF district.

Five of the six most recent falsification cases were referred to the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office for review, according to the inspector general.

The state attorney's office decided not to file charges in one case in which a worker admitted to recording a visit to all siblings when he actually saw only two and took a relative's word that the third was down the street playing basketball.

Two other cases are still under review, and the office has not yet received the files on the two most recent cases. Information was not readily available on the seventh case.

Every report of wrongdoing is cause for concern, said Al Zimmerman, DCF spokesman in Tallahassee. But the recent streak in Palm Beach County might be attributed in part to heightened vigilance and more thorough reporting, he said.

Since May 2005, DCF policy has required every employee, regardless of position, to report all suspected fraud and wrongdoing to the inspector general. The state has seen a rise in the number of reported incidents as a result, Zimmerman said.

The inspector general commended the Children's Home Society for its swift handling of the Pompilus case.

Warren said her agency launched internal investigations of both cases as soon as the allegations surfaced. Her agency's eight-week training program includes a strong ethics lesson, and workers are warned they will be fired for any falsification of a record. Both Cronin and Pompilus were hired in 2006.

Workload is high at the agency, Warren said. Seven of the 43 positions are open, but four new workers are scheduled to help make up the gap next week.

The agency supports its caseworkers and has supervisors available to help if staffers are struggling with the high caseloads caused by a large number of children coming into foster care.

"We are committed to protecting children and will make no excuses for any lapse in ensuring their safety and well-being," Warren said.


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